I was lucky to grow up with two parents who pushed me and my brothers equally to achieve our goals in life. My father always told me that, in order to be successful, I had to work at things — the second I slacked off or stopped advocating for myself, I’d be surpassed by someone who hadn’t slowed down. So I took that advice and applied it to my entire life: I landed my first job four months before graduating college; I shifted my career focus from beauty to relationships; and I moved into my own studio apartment at the age of 24 (which is no small feat in NYC).
My try-hard attitude is usually considered a good thing, especially when I’m talking about my work or my personal achievements. But people stop applauding my get-shit-done personality and say that I’m trying “too hard” when we’re talking about one particular aspect of my world: my dating life. Friends tell me this. Family members tell me this. Commenters on this very site tell me the exact same thing. Their advice is that I should stop trying so hard, and that I’ll find love when I stop looking for it. This advice is seemingly everywhere. And frankly, it’s bullshit.
When I tell my friends how many dates I have lined up over the course of a few weeks, they’ll ask, “Have you ever thought about stopping?” Smaller details seem to trip them up, too. The fact that I’ll approach men in bars, text them first, or ask them out is apparently “very aggressive,” which really means “desperate” — which, according to many of them, is the worst quality a single woman can have. But, for me, waiting for a relationship to fall into my lap is unnatural, because I have wanted to find love ever since I saw Cinderella for the first time. So why drag my feet?
The advice to “stop looking” completely contradicts how ambitious people are generally taught to behave. Think about it: Would you ever tell someone that a desired outcome will happen when they stop trying to achieve it in regards to any other part of their life? Imagine telling a person looking for a job to stop desperately sending out resumes and let the jobs come to them. Or imagine telling someone who’s apartment-hunting to stop being so available for apartment viewings because the listing of their dreams will just magically appear in their lap. Of course this advice doesn’t make sense — if you want something, you have to go looking for it.
So why is it appropriate to tell a single person who wants a relationship that they should cast their eyes down, stay inside, and let everyone come to them? Can you imagine the scenario that might actually play out if everyone took this advice? You’d have a lot of solo people standing in corners at bars as if they were middle-schoolers at a mixer. Not to mention, the “wait until it comes to you” advice is also extremely gendered, and it’s usually doled out to women to make one thing clear: We’re not supposed to be the pursuers in relationships, unless we want to be labelled as desperate. (Don’t even get me started on that.)
Why is it appropriate to tell a single person who wants a relationship that they should cast their eyes down, stay inside, and let everyone come to them?
I didn’t always feel this way, though — I used to try to take this fraught advice. In my early 20s, my ambitious side would try to fix the things that I felt might be holding me back from achieving what I wanted. So when people first told me to stop looking, I listened. I deleted my dating apps and went out with friends for “girls' nights” in which I’d declare that I wasn’t looking for a man. But it was pure performance — even though I said I wasn’t looking, my eyes would still scan the room. And when I’d spot a cute guy at the other end of the bar, I wouldn’t approach him, like I would in the past. Let him come to you, I’d think. Most of the time, he wouldn’t, and I’d be left wondering what if. After a little bit of time, I redownloaded the apps, though I still felt guilty about my inability to let things lie.
Thanks to therapy, I came to the understanding that I probably won’t stop looking for love until I find it — and that’s totally fine. There’s nothing wrong with holding up a relationship as something I want in life. So I stopped listening to the people who told me I was trying “too hard” and started feeling more confident in my search. Being “aggressive” makes me feel like I’m putting myself in a position to allow love into my life, which is important to me.
And sure, I don’t think everyone who repeats the advice “You’ll find love when you stop looking for it” is trying to put down the person they’re talking to. It could just be their misguided way of signalling that people should keep their lives full and not sacrifice too much to prioritise love. Maybe the big issue here is that the advice just needs some reworking: Instead of saying things like, “Stop looking for love,” I suggest we give the advice, “Do what makes you happy.” If that includes looking for love, that’s awesome. If it involves hunting for the perfect apartment or trying out a new indoor cycling class, dope.
As for me, instead of cancelling my search, I’ve given myself permission to prioritise love, so long as I continue to keep the other parts of my life in balance. I’m never going to be able to dump cold water on my go-getter attitude; it’s how I ensure I’m living the kind of life I want.